United Nations membership, plans to donate proceeds from the sale of gold reserves to the needy, as well as tax cuts and proposals to reduce health costs are among the main issues being debated in the Swiss parliament over the next three weeks.This content was published on September 17, 2001 - 07:55
The House of Representatives has scheduled two days of discussions over whether Switzerland should join the United Nations. The Senate has already overwhelmingly approved the proposal, which will come to a nationwide vote next year.
Opponents, mainly from the right-wing Swiss People's Party, say UN membership could compromise Swiss neutrality. The electorate rejected a similar proposal in 1986.
The House will also begin debating a planned new charity, to be funded through the sale of excess gold reserves belonging to the National Bank. The Solidarity Foundation was launched by the government in 1997 and coincided with the debate over Switzerland's role during the Second World War.
However, the People's Party has come out against the plans and called for all the money to be handed over to the state pension scheme.
One of the best-known Swiss politicians, Christoph Blocher, could see his parliamentary immunity lifted. Blocher is accused of breaching the anti-racism law in a speech in 1997 about the Holocaust debate.
He would be only the second member of parliament in nearly six decades to be forced to forego his legal immunity. In 1991 the Social Democrat, Jean Ziegler, was taken to court by a Geneva businessman for libel.
Lively debates are also expected in parliament on the government's policy towards illegal immigrants seeking residency permits. Protests in several cities over the past five months have highlighted the plight of an estimated 300,000 people in Switzerland.
Similarly, discussions have been tabled on an agreement with Germany over noise pollution out of Switzerland's main airport of Zurich-Kloten, as well as the future of the state-controlled Post Office, the Federal Railways and the telecommunications operator, Swisscom.
Tax breaks and health costs
Parliament's regular autumn session in Bern will also see the House of Representatives tackling plans to offer tax cuts for families, enterprises, as well as property owners. It could lead to a drop in revenue of up to SFr 1.7 billion ($1 billion).
The Senate, for its part, envisages changes to the health insurance law amid ongoing controversy over spiralling health costs in Switzerland. The proposed changes include limiting the free choice of doctors and reorganise the financing of hospitals.
A people's initiative aimed at improving the legal status of the disabled is also tabled in the Senate. In further parliamentary business the House of Representatives is to discuss proposals to ease restrictions on euthanasia.
by Urs Geiser